A reader writes:
I heard yet another veteran Education Week BYU religion prof last week say that “women are inherently more spiritual than men.” I really dislike this concept, and don’t know where it comes from. It makes me feel guilty for being a woman who is clearly not up to the level of many church leaders and male scriptural examples when my divine nature should be more in tune ;-) And it seems to be always said by men. Anyway, I wondered if you could post something like that comment and “discuss”–just a thought.
I’ll start with a few thoughts of my own:
(1) I think this sentiment has a very understandable genesis: people (mostly male people) look around and they see (or think they see?) that women seem more “in tune” with the gospel than men. But they discount the effect of socialization–of the fact that women are (usually) culturally conditioned to be quiet, meek, submissive, selfless, etc.
(2) Sometimes this is a priesthood apologetic: the priesthood is viewed as, as it were, training wheels for those poor oafish men who would never learn to behave without it. Women don’t need the training wheels because they are inherently more spiritual. (Note: I think a reasonable if not provable argument can be made that the current priesthood restriction is due to the fact that men need to overcome their socialization.)
(3) This sentiment seems to fly in the face of something Jesus taught:
And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. (Luke 11:27-28)
In other words, this woman offers a completely culturally appropriate praise of Mary focused on her femaleness. Jesus says, in effect, no, she isn’t blessed because she is female, she (and, presumably, any other woman) is blessed or not blessed based on their choice to follow God.
(4) I don’t like to discount possibilities. I keep it within the realm of possibility that God might have divided all the baby intelligences into two piles and put the more spiritual ones into female spirit (and then earthly) bodies and the less spiritual ones into male bodies. (“It sure would explain a lot,” she snorts.) But if this is true, what is the evidence for it? If the evidence is, “but most of the women I know are more spiritual than most of the men I know,” then one must also consider socialization. If the evidence is, “but that’s why men have the priesthood and women don’t,” then one must consider other reasons (and also the Temple–which we won’t discuss here). But if there is other evidence, I’ll consider it.
(5) I think that those who are convinced that women are more spiritual than men should carefully consider the validity of the evidence that they are using to reach this conclusion and then also consider the risks of their position. Two particular dangers come to mind: that this position lets men off the hook of spiritual development and that it frustrates women by not crediting them for the hard work that they have put into their spiritual development.